“Synergy” is defined as the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Sarah Glenn and Gwen Mayo, two Safety Harbor writers, have managed to accomplish this in Murder on the Mullet Express, a mystery that takes readers back to the early days of Homosassa, Florida.
The two Kentucky natives have long shared an interest in writing. Graduates of the University of Kentucky, Glenn earned a degree in journalism and Mayo attended college on a poetry fellowship. After careers that included working the reports desk for the police department in Lexington, Kentucky (Glenn) and a stint as a railroad engineer, one of the last to be certified on steam locomotives (Mayo), the women tried their hands at writing. Mayo wrote a story that was accepted for a mystery anthology. The main character was so well-received that Mayo decided to feature her in a novel, and in 2010, Circle of Dishonor became the first in her Nessa Donnelly mystery series. It was followed by Concealed in Ash a sequel which introduced Professor Percival Pettijohn, a character who would re-emerge in Murder on the Mullet Express.
Glenn’s initial work was quite different. All This and Family Too (2011) is the comedic tale of a vampire who escapes from North Carolina to a gated community in California and discovers that the Home Owner’s Association is worse than any vampire hunter could ever be.
The decision to co-write a novel came about after the two women moved to Florida. They decided to visit Homosassa to see the manatees and became fascinated with its colorful history. “When the land was being sold, there were so many people coming down that the railroad made an embargo and people had to take the train to Jacksonville and be driven to Homosassa,” Glenn says “I wondered what would happen if someone fell out of a car dead. It would be the ultimate locked room mystery.” It also served as the basis for Murder on the Mullet Express.
One of the elements that sets the book apart is its quirky characters. “We wanted to put together all the characters you’d find in a land deal with the swindlers, schemes and skullduggery,” Glenn explains. The two female protagonists, Cornelia Pettijohn and Teddy Lawless, were inspired by one of Glenn’s ancestors. “She was a nurse who’d been gassed in WWI,” Glenn says. “She had a very strong personality and was stubborn and staunchly moral.” The two writers knew from the beginning that Professor Pettijohn would be part of the cast. “I became totally enchanted with the professor when I was editing Concealed in Ash,” Glenn recalls. “The characters fell in together perfectly and created a whole new thing,” Mayo adds.
While some writers find it difficult to collaborate, Mayo and Glenn relished the process. “Our biggest challenge was our very different writing styles,” Glenn explains. “Gwen starts at the beginning and writes in order straight to the end. I start with the strongest scenes in my head and then establish a timeline and tie everything together, so chronology can sometimes be a problem.” But they found that co-writing gave them one distinct advantage. “Most of the dialogue came from playing off each other,” Glenn says. “That made writing it a lot easier.”
Glenn is currently busy selecting stories for Strangely Funny VI, an annual anthology that brings supernatural and humor together, and Mayo is working on a third Nessa Donnelly novel. But Mayo and Glenn enjoyed co-writing so much that they’ve decided to do it again in a sequel set closer to home. Scheduled for release in 2019, Murder at the Million Dollar Pier centers around the building of the pier in St. Petersburg in 1926. It opens at the Vinoy and involves Tampa gangsters and the Chicago mob. “You will see a few gangsters, but the story focuses more on how secrets from the past can change lives,” Glenn says. She and Mayo concur that by writing together, they create something unique. “It blends Sarah’s humor with my love of history, and the voice isn’t mine or Sarah’s – it’s like the two combined,” Mayo says. “I love that aspect.” According to Glenn, “Other writers say ‘You wrote a book together and didn’t kill each other?’ The answer is yes.”